Napoleon Critical Context - Essay

David G. Chandler

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In his preface, Chandler describes several basic aspects of Napoleon’s greatness, both in civilian and military realms. In addition to controlling the destiny of much of Europe for nearly twenty years, his achievements in government and law surpassed all of his contemporaries. Moreover, his inception of the possibility of a united European community makes him seem at least a century ahead of his time. Militarily, he has long been acknowledged as a genius, an innovator who expanded or changed previous concepts to sweep away the formal nature of eighteenth century warfare, creating in its place a fast-moving striking force.

A leader with a capacity for greatness, however, may possess a number of serious flaws. Thus, in his preface, Chandler can also legitimately indict Napoleon for his tyrannical behavior, his inability to trust his closest associates, his increasing contempt for the opposition (especially in Spain and in Russia), and perhaps most serious in a military leader, an unwillingness to change his strategies so as to continue to outwit his enemies.

In summary, the understanding of one great individual’s success, and the events that led to his downfall, can offer many valuable lessons. This fact is surely among the reasons that Napoleon’s career continues to attract young readers, filmmakers, and historians. His life resembles a morality play in which all can see something of themselves. Chandler provides a good basis for such understanding.